5 months' jail for ex-lawyer who misled clients

Loo gave legal advice to Chinese nationals even though he was not authorised to do so.
Loo gave legal advice to Chinese nationals even though he was not authorised to do so.

He gave legal advice and charged high fees, despite having been disbarred for misconduct in 2012

A former lawyer who provided legal advice to some Chinese nationals when he was not authorised to do so was sentenced to five months' jail yesterday.

Leonard Loo Peng Chee, 45, had previously contested charges of acting as an advocate and solicitor, abetting in a conspiracy with a man to solicit clients on his behalf, and abetting a Chinese national to intentionally obstruct the course of justice. But he admitted to four charges under the Legal Profession Act in June, after a 24-day hearing.

Loo had been disbarred in 2012 for professional misconduct. The Law Society had received 14 complaints from his clients and the courts, covering at least 86 instances of misconduct, including dishonesty.

But the following year, he gave legal advice to Chinese nationals.

Deterrence is "a particularly relevant consideration" in this case as "the act of providing legal services without having been authorised to do so promises high monetary gain for a relatively small amount of effort", said Deputy Public Prosecutor Quek Jing Feng.

Loo's acts, added the prosecution, were "tantamount to deceiving his clients as they would not have engaged him... had they known from the outset that he was not a lawyer".

Besides failing to inform his clients that he was not a lawyer, Loo did not correct them when they called him "Lawyer Loo" in Mandarin. He charged high fees as well - for example, $800 for providing legal advice and drafting simple appeal letters in November 2013.

DPP Quek added that Loo targeted people from China in need of legal assistance, as they were less likely to be aware of his disbarment.

Loo presented his own mitigation in a calm and composed manner, appearing in court wearing a dark grey T-shirt, light-coloured trousers and black-framed spectacles.

He argued that he made "no misrepresentations" to the authorities that he was a qualified person and had participated in no court proceedings. He said he also did not explicitly represent himself as a lawyer to his victims.

In mitigation, Loo said: "I'm sincerely apologetic for all I've done, and I will reflect on these issues deeply for the rest of my life."

"The right to practise law is a special privilege," said District Judge Jasvender Kaur, who added that "there is a need to deter unauthorised persons" from providing legal services.

She said the sentencing policy must be to protect potential clients.

The success of Loo's business model, said District Judge Kaur, was dependent on clients believing that he was a lawyer and she agreed with the prosecution that his behaviour was tantamount to deception.

While Loo said he was prepared to make repayments to his victims, the judge said this had come very late.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline '5 months' jail for ex-lawyer who misled clients'. Print Edition | Subscribe